Examining Children’S Cognitive Abilities in an Advertising Context: Differences in Breadth and Depth ACRoss Age Groups

Lynnea Mallalieu, Iowa State University
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - There is fairly widespread agreement that by the age of eight children are able to distinguish between advertising on television and more general programming (see Brucks, Armstrong and Goldberg 1988). What remains unclear is the specific nature of the cognitive abilities that are needed in order for children to make the discrimination between ads and programs. In clarifying what is meant by the ability to discriminate researchers mean that children understand that ads have a selling intent (as opposed to an entertainment or informative intent). Apart from seminal research by Robertson and Rossiter (1974), in which they propose five general cognitive factors as precursors to understanding advertising’s persuasive intent, there is a lack of research that specifically examines cognitive structures in children that are related to understanding commercial persuasion. In addition, although there is little debate that children of different ages vary in terms of their cognitive development, these differences have not been carefully scrutinized in the context of advertising, specifically in terms of their effect on children’s ability to understand the intent of advertising.
[ to cite ]:
Lynnea Mallalieu (2003) ,"Examining Children’S Cognitive Abilities in an Advertising Context: Differences in Breadth and Depth ACRoss Age Groups", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 18.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Page 18

EXAMINING CHILDREN’S COGNITIVE ABILITIES IN AN ADVERTISING CONTEXT: DIFFERENCES IN BREADTH AND DEPTH ACROSS AGE GROUPS

Lynnea Mallalieu, Iowa State University

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

There is fairly widespread agreement that by the age of eight children are able to distinguish between advertising on television and more general programming (see Brucks, Armstrong and Goldberg 1988). What remains unclear is the specific nature of the cognitive abilities that are needed in order for children to make the discrimination between ads and programs. In clarifying what is meant by the ability to discriminate researchers mean that children understand that ads have a selling intent (as opposed to an entertainment or informative intent). Apart from seminal research by Robertson and Rossiter (1974), in which they propose five general cognitive factors as precursors to understanding advertising’s persuasive intent, there is a lack of research that specifically examines cognitive structures in children that are related to understanding commercial persuasion. In addition, although there is little debate that children of different ages vary in terms of their cognitive development, these differences have not been carefully scrutinized in the context of advertising, specifically in terms of their effect on children’s ability to understand the intent of advertising.

Previous studies indicate that children as young as eight have the ability to recognize television advertising (e.g., Brucks, Armstrong and Goldberg 1988). However, existing research has not examined specific knowledge structures and beliefs with regard to children’s understanding of advertising, which directly affects their ability to understand advertising’s persuasive intent and, thus, defend against it (Robertson and Rossiter 1974). In order to address these under-researched areas this study examines in detail the specific nature of children’s cognitive abilities that allow them to make the discrimination between ads and programming. We focus on children with varying degrees of cognitive ability in order to examine the developmental nature of cognitive factors related to advertising that ultimately affect children=s ability to defend themselves against advertising’s persuasive intent. We utilize and extend the five advertising-related cognitive factors posited by Robertson and Rossiter that are believed to develop sequentially as children age (as their general cognitive abilities develop). The present study, based on focus group data collected from both younger (5-7 year-olds) and older (1 1-12 year-olds) children, examines in detail different cognitive factors used by children to interpret advertising messages. We examine each of these factors across the children using age as a correlate for stage of cognitive development.

Differences were found between the age groups in terms of how well developed specific cognitive abilities are, suggesting that the ability to defend against advertising’s persuasive intent develops sequentially. We present our findings and propose areas for future research in response to the need to better understand specific issues surrounding the effects of advertising on children.

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